The commitment to help salvage te reo Māori, although a worthy and important kaupapa, has come at the cost of starving and stifling the Māori voice in English.


Willie Jackson and Hone Harawira were squaring off a few days ago about reo Māori programming.

Willie, the Minister for Māori Development, has an advisory panel working on Māori media reforms. And, given the crumbs (and sometimes no-crumbs at all) for the brown media over the last 30 years, we can assume that the upcoming budget will make some amends and earmark at least a few dollars for the neglected areas.

In his pre-ministerial days, when Willie was running Radio Waatea and heading Te Whakaruruhau (the network of iwi radio stations), he was a strong advocate of programming in reo Pākehā as well as in reo Māori.

So it’s no surprise to hear him rubbishing the line from Hone that all the Māori media dollars should go towards reo Māori. Willie’s personal preference has clearly been for more dollars going into the Māori media — but for both languages.

Through the years, Hone has come up with initiatives that have deserved respect and backing. Feed the Kids, for instance. And taking on the tobacco industry.

But the same can’t be said of his idea that funding reo Māori programming should be the top priority — or even the only one — among the funding reforms.

That’s because the most effective advocacy for reo Māori comes from English language voices in the Māori media.

And by far the most potent ally for reo Māori progress in the future would be a growing Māori media network with the funding and staff to keep arguing the case and spreading the word in English.

English is the language that reaches all the politicians and the voters, including the journalists and teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and academics and business leaders and all the others who play a part in shaping our society.

Most New Zealanders — and that includes a majority of Māori — are immune to anything in Māori because, mostly, they don’t understand much beyond “kia ora”, “kōhanga”, “hangi” and “tangi”.

A critical role of the Māori media is ensuring that the Māori voice is heard in national conversations. That voice comes in both English and te reo Māori.

But the battle to salvage te reo Māori has distorted that role — and it has stunted the growth of Māori media.

The good news is that — despite the white supremacy trolls clinging to, and preaching, their prejudices — there’s been a growing understanding and concern among New Zealanders that one of the costs of colonising Aotearoa has been the near death of te reo Māori. And more and more New Zealanders now accept that the Crown has a responsibility to support Māori initiatives, like kōhanga reo, to resuscitate and revitalise the language.

Unfortunately, that pro-reo Māori battle has limited the growth of a wider, pro-Māori advocacy throughout the New Zealand media.

For the last few decades, we’ve needed the resources for a choir of strong Māori voices outsinging the discordant, often ill-informed, and entitled white media chorus.

Instead, we’ve had a mainstream media woefully shortchanging Māori — and while Stuff is the only media organisation to so far acknowledge that publicly, there’s no doubt that this has also been true of the rest of mainstream radio, television, print and websites.

We’ve also had to make do with the blindness and deafness of the Crown funders who haven’t noticed how their decisions have kept the Māori media so fragmented, so poverty stricken, so muzzled, and, by national standards, so quiet.

So, what’s possible now? If Willie’s advisers were to push for all the reforms they’d like to see in the Māori media, they’d have to overcome a couple of political obstacles too massive and distracting to be worth tackling now.

For example, it would make sense for the growth of te reo Māori to be in the hands of the reo gurus in Te Taura Whiri and Te Mātāwai — not Māori journalists who have more pressing duties.

And Māori journalism — news, current affairs, features, magazines — should be the responsibility of those with the journalistic know-how.

But it’s too late to shut that stable door because, with the decisive (and, overall, welcome) help of the Privy Council, those horses have bolted, and we may never get to the point where the reo and the journalism are managed by separate organisations.

If the separation were to take place, the journalism decisions could be made within a new organisation — say, a Māori Media Authority — which, for the first time in living memory, would allow for informed planning, and for managing and funding.

It’s hardly revolutionary to have specialists focusing on their specialty. But let’s say that’s a pipe dream, and that neither Willie nor his advisory panel will want to go down those tracks.

We’ll settle for cutting our losses, but stick to the view that Hone and other well-intentioned people are wrong.

Of course, te reo Māori should have much more support. But not at the continuing cost of starving and stifling the Māori voice in English. And not at the cost of denying that voice the volume, the power, and the reach that Māori should have as a Treaty partner.

© E-Tangata, 2021

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